November 10, 2010

Alyn Bike Ride 2010 - Day 2

Monday October 25
Mitzpe Ramon to Sde Boker

Distance: 47 km/30 mi
Ascent: 400 m/1310 ft
Even before breakfast began, I peeked out the window and saw riders eagerly cleaning and tuning their bikes. I felt that pang of ‘I have not cleaned my bike’ and ‘I don’t even know what they are doing.’ I felt like a kid who’s turning up to school without having done my homework. Yet, when I examined my true desires, I preferred a coffee over a well-tuned bike. In fact, I wanted a few coffees as I could not envision how I would ever do yet another full day of biking.

I have already done one challenging day; is this not enough?

By 8:00, people gathered with their bikes revving and raring to go. I did not know why all these bikers were so keen; I thought starting time was 8:15 today. Suddenly they took off, reducing our group to an intimate size of 50 bikers. I now understand that the bikers who left us in a trail of dust were the Enduros, a group of hard core bikers who can take on any terrain at any speed.

By 8:20 we started, escorted by a police car down the road onto our trail. My phone started ringing at this exact moment and I soon became the last biker, being nudged on by the escort jeep. It was Shaya’s teacher on the phone telling me that Shaya was feeling sick. I told her Shaya could go home and hung up the phone. It rang again. This time it was the secretary telling me to pick up my child at school.

‘I am in the middle of a desert,’ I screamed into the phone in my broken Hebrew as I pedaled behind the crowd.

But she had no mercy and insisted I find someone to get him. My babysitter was not answering her phone so I called my friend Karen who saved the day. Thanks Karen. At this point I knew I could once again focus on biking. I stayed at the back of the pack where I am less of a hazard to myself and to others.

We rode across Mishor HaRuchot which means the Plain of the Winds, where a searing wind accompanied us across dunes, through thick sand and atop hard rocks. Biking though sand is a bit like like navigating through snow (and as a former seasoned winter rider from Toronto, I know about biking through slush). When we follow each other through the sand, a virtual cloud of dust rises up and I, at the back, tend to inhale it, crunching desert grit in my teeth.

We biked through chiseled red gorges, passing scrubby plants along the way. At times I felt as if I were in a Western movie, expecting a sheriff on a horse to gallop by. The landscape was majestic and spectacular. Being such a small group, we easily spread apart. Amir was always at the front, with Barry beside him. It was a beautiful sight to glimpse a stream of bikers crossing the desert, their bright yellow jerseys a beacon of this special caravan.

We passed a vineyard in the desert, each plant carefully protected by a milk carton and then stopped in a nearby olive grove for a break. It was incredible that we were in the desert yet surrounded by olive trees – this was a true oasis. We continued on, a gentle downward trail with rocky inclines along the way. Bikers stopped to take photos of the breathless scenery, of the rocky Arkov mountains towering beside us and of the Azame Bedouins. We even biked past a few camels who were kind enough to pose for pictures. The riding was challenging, but we all seemed to be improving our desert riding skills.

Lunch was spread out under a tree; hot soup and sandwiches. The men davened mincha and a young rider fell asleep on the mat. We were truly tired and dirty. We were given an option of climbing an extra 150 metres and 3 km to a viewpoint. The group split and I, unble to resist uphill challenges, went for the bait. It was strenuous but not so vigorous and I am proud to say I was one of the first women to the top. Yet as I slowly descended, I realized that I had left my gloves at the top. And the truck that was at my heels actually went back up - and found them! What service!

In the midst of this, my cell phone rang. It was my oldest son, Ariel.

"All your money has been spent on art supplies. There is nothing left to pay for my driving lessons. And forget about food."

He hung up, leaving me in suspense. He loves a bit of drama. Art supplies? Has my house has become an art camp within 24 hours? Is that what my babysitter meant by having a vacation? My head reeled. I decided that my son must be exaggerating. Chewing on some gritty sand brought me back to my reality: I had some more hills to climb and would not be distracted right now. As I tried to spit out some gravel, Barry sailed past me, flashing a wide white grin and still looking like a fashion model. He had stopped for a photo opp and flew past me yet again. I got back on my bike and pedaled on.

We all met up at a final rest stop and I actually thought we were nearby our final destination. I thought I could see Sde Boker in the near distance, a bright green swab that popped out of the rocky desert. But we climbed yet again and this time the climb was steep and rocky like a staircase. I pushed and pushed and am proud to say that I made it all the way to the top without falling or getting off the bike. Wow!

My descents were not so easy. I walked some of them as it was rocky with scree, and sharp turns. Every time I put my hands on my brakes, the bike skidded out of control and I was not brave enough to shoot straight down a rocky descent. Our shadows lengthened and the light dimmed. My arms were aching and shaking from grasping the handles bars and brakes so tensely for so many hours. As the sun was setting, we rode into Sde Boker. We gave our dusty desert bikes a bath with an air hose. The chains were caked with sand and dust. We then went to our rooms for that amazing hot shower that is always the best shower in the world. I fell on my bed and did not want to move.

In the evening, a local kibbutznik told us his own travel story; a bike trip across the salt flats north of Ethiopia - and he had just returned from a 250 km run across the Sahara. That puts our insanity into perspective.

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